Tokyo: Japanese fish dealers yesterday welcomed the rejection of a proposed trade ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna — a prized ingredient of sushi — while urging that existing quotas be more strictly enforced to protect the species from overfishing.

Thursday's vote at a UN meeting in Doha rejecting the ban was front-page news in all major Japanese newspapers yesterday.

Japan consumes about 80 per cent of the world's Atlantic bluefin tuna, and the possibility of a ban had consumers and fish wholesalers worried that prices for the pink and red meat of the fish — called "hon-maguro" here — would soar or that it might even vanish from some menus.

Falling stocks

Stocks of the fish have fallen by 60 per cent from 1997 to 2007, and environmentalists argue that a trading ban imposed by the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, would protect the fish.

But the Japanese government and fishing industry say an outright trading ban is too drastic a step, and that catch quotas set by another body, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), should be more strictly enforced to protect the species from overfishing. In November, ICCAT cut the annual global quota by 40 per cent to 13,500 tonnes.

"Rather than ban exports, we should make sure to limit the number caught," said Kazuhiro Takayama, a fish wholesaler at Tokyo's sprawling Tsukiji fish market. "A lot of people depend on this fish for their livelihoods."

Economic concerns appeared to trump environmental ones, as fishing nations from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean complained that any ban would damage their fishing communities and that fears of the stock's collapse were overstated.

The proposed trading ban garnered little support at the CITES meeting, with 68 countries voting against it, 20 for and 30 abstentions.